Monique Mercier: How To Make It In A Man’s World
Monique Mercier speaks at a Women In Business lunch at Oxford’s Said Business School
Earlier this month, BusinessBecause were lucky enough to join the Women In Business club at Oxford’s Said Business School to hear first hand from Monique Mercier about the challenges she has faced in her 27 year career and – more importantly – how she overcame them.
How did you start out?
After my law degree at the University of Montreal,I was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to study for an M Phil in politics at Oxford University. The three years I spent in Oxford were vital for building up a network of good friends and contacts, and allowed me to develop the necessary rigour and analytical skills for a successful career.
Following the birth of my first child, I began work as a tax lawyer for Stikeman Elliott in Quebec. I was fortunate to have a mentor who had such a passion for law that it was as though he ate it. I had to re-write my first memo for him ten times, and I learned from his attention to detail.
The legal profession was extremely male dominant, and my seniors wouldn’t put a woman in front of a client without a man beside her. The only other female employee advised me to ‘be like a man’, but I realised that being a woman had advantages too. We make great communicators, and empathise well – it may sound clichéd, but it’s true. Asking for maternity leave was a particular challenge as they had no policy allowing women to take time off work, but they decided that I was able to stay at home for four months if I wished. Guilt meant I returned after two and a half months!
How did you progress in your career?
Next, I moved to Bell Canada Enterprise. Although it is mostly known for telecoms, it was also a conglomerate with interests in areas as diverse as real estate and oil. The multi-disciplinary team meant I could face new challenges, and I continued to work within the Bell Canada Enterprise group for seventeenth years including two years at Bell Canada International (BCI) and seven years at BCE Emergis.
My time at BCI was an enormously demanding experience, but extremely exciting too. I oversaw M&A transactions across Asia and South America. At BCE Emergis, we bought 18 companies to drive the company’s topline sales and then sold them all again! At one point, the stock price went up from $26 to $189 in six months; another six months later, the stocks had fallen to $2. As Executive VP, I worked under four different CEOs and CFOs, and each time it was like a new job: it’s so important to be able to prove yourself again and again, and build a trusting relationship, especially as a legal advisor.
In 2008, Emergis was taken over by Telus, and I decided to apply for the job of Chief Legal Officer for Telus, with global responsibilities. The selection process was incredibly rigorous – one interview lasted five hours – but I prepared diligently, and got the job. Now, I am the only woman on a team of eight executives.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful? And have you got any advice for female MBAs?
I’ve always relied on the advice of mentors: it’s an immensely valuable way of learning. It’s also important that you are willing to prove your own abilities, and to have self-confidence. Promoting yourself can be difficult, but if you neglect to do so, other people won’t notice the skills you have.
Embrace ambiguity and change. Over the course of a career, a lot of things are going to alter, and if you’re uncomfortable with that, you’ll find things a real struggle – especially in an industry like telecoms.
Once you have a more senior position, never forget the value of your team. You may be their senior, but if you can gain respect from those under you and develop a succession plan, it is the best possible endorsement for your leadership.
How has being a business-minded woman changed since the start of your career?
People are a lot more used to seeing women in senior jobs, but it’s slow and steady progress. Nowadays, 70% of law graduates from the University of Montreal are female, but obviously it will take a little while for these women to make it through to the very top positions.
However, to be successful, you must be passionate. It’s hard work bringing up three children and having a career too, and if you don’t think having a family and a job is for you, that’s fine. If you don’t love your work, you probably won’t be very good at it! The most important lesson of all is to identify your passions and skills – then, success comes much more easily.
You can read more about Monique Mercier on the Telus website here.
You might be interested in similar Women in Business stories from BusinessBecause, such as an AT Kearney brunch at London Business School or the WIB club at Nanyang in Singapore. You can search for other stories using the ‘Search’ box at the top of the site!
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